September 17, 2003


WESLEY WHO? (David Frum,  SEP. 16, 2003, National Review)

If any one figure sums up the illusions and errors of the 1990s, it is Clark. Clark was the general who led the U.S. into a purely humanitarian war in Kosovo – at exactly the moment that the Clinton administration was disregarding the gathering threat to the United States from Middle Eastern terrorism. Clark has criticized the supposed and alleged errors of U.S. planning in Iraq – notwithstanding that his campaign in Kosovo was based on an unending series of errors, above all his claim that his air campaigns could destroy Serbian military capabilities without harming the Serbian civilian population.

Beyond that, though, Clark epitomizes the great Democratic miscalculation of 2004. The miscalculation is that they can win the election by running against President Bush on national security – and that their anti-security agenda will be enhanced by finding a man in striped pants to promote it.

They’d have done better, though, to keep security off the agenda and to concentrate instead on bread-and-butter issues: ironically, the hard left’s anger at the war is preventing the left from offering a populist economic agenda at a time when an agenda like that could gain a hearing. Instead, the top Democrats are going way to the country’s left on patriotic issues – and are showing themselves not nearly left enough for this year’s electorate on healthcare, jobs, and the rest.

I heard Jeff Greenfield say on CNN today that every general to seek the presidency since Andrew Jackson has been a Republican. That’s not quite right: Think of Lewis Cass (the Democratic nominee for president in 1848) or George McClellan (Democratic nominee 1864) or Winfield Scott Hancock (Democratic nominee, 1880). What Greenfield probably meant to say was that all the successful generals were Republicans. Indeed so, and for good reasons – the reasons Wesley Clark will drill home in ’04 one more time.

General Clark has no accomplishment in life that he doesn't share with Al Haig, from Nato commander to disciple of an impeached president. On the other hand, when he ran in 1988, General Haig had already effectively been President when he served as Chief of Staff in Richard Nixon's final demented days (and, in his own mind, for several hours after Ronald Reagan was shot), and as Secretary of State.

Besides this obvious imbalance in their qualifications, the only other difference between the two appears to be that General Haig at least had an entertaining personality to compensate for his megalomania, while General Clark exudes the banality of a TV newsanchor.

Posted by Orrin Judd at September 17, 2003 10:54 AM

Ah, yes, the Lion of Srbrenica.

On NPR yesterday, some dippy lil thang said one of the advantages Clark brings to his party is the "man on a white horse" factor.

Although there's a lot of competition, I'll nominate that for stupidest statement by a journalist in 2003.

Posted by: Harry Eagar at September 17, 2003 2:48 PM

"White horse"?

More like the mechanical pony ride you'd find outside a midwestern drug store inthe 1960s. Put in your quarter and get shaken around for a few minutes.

Posted by: Raoul Ortega at September 17, 2003 3:04 PM

They were just talking to Douglas Brinkley on NPR about generals in American politics. Retired reservist calls in and compares Clark to the nemesis in Once an Eagle, says every guy he's ever met who served with him or under him thinks he was a self-centered, career-driven, phony. I thought the NPR transmitter might explode.

Posted by: oj at September 17, 2003 3:13 PM

I'd forgotten all about those mechanical ponies. Thanks for the memories.

Posted by: George at September 17, 2003 4:23 PM

Well, the point was that the original man on a white horse, General Boulanger, was supposed to overthrow the Third Republic.

Posted by: Harry Eagar at September 17, 2003 5:08 PM